31 December 2017

To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey

Posted by Callan Bentley

My friend Betsy recommended I read this novel, and I’m glad she did. It’s of an unusual structure: a series of documents, arranged in more or less chronological order (with some variation for plot structure), written by 5 principal characters, two in particular. The two are a U.S. Army captain sent on an expedition to explore the Wolverine River Valley of Alaska, and his wife, who remains behind in Vancouver, Washington. The lovers are separated for almost a year while he makes his way through the wilderness. She chafes at societal expectations and delves into photography and ornithology. Meanwhile, he comes into contact with a very strange wild Alaska, where people and wild animals can transmute into one another, sometimes with nefarious intent, and sometimes just because that’s their nature. It’s an unsettling vision where some women are also geese, and the shaman can turn into a limping raven. There’s also a modern day exchange of letters, between a descendant of the explorer and a museum curator in the modern, no-longer-wilderness Wolverine Valley. This helps set up the context of the documents, and provides commentary on them, linking the “primary” source material with insights that come a century later. It’s well written and immersive, enjoyable to read over the holiday break. Nothing profound, but full of character and soulful intent.